Becky Barefield ’16 turns her family’s dreams into reality as a first-generation college graduate
Alumni of Centre College have been called the “happiest in the nation,” a ranking that comes in part from a sense of appreciation graduates have for their many opportunities and experiences as students.
As a first-generation college student—and now graduate—Becky Barefield ’16 is perhaps more appreciative than most of the opportunity to study at a college like Centre.
“Graduation is so important to my family,” she says. “My parents have scrimped and saved for the last twenty-one and a half years to send me to college.”
While being a first-generation student is not always an easy role to play, Barefield says she has held fast to her goal of earning a college degree and hopes that graduating from Centre will shape new traditions in her family.
“Being a first-generation graduate means a chance to break the cycle,” she explains. “It also means that I’ve earned something that people in my family haven’t had the opportunity or support to earn themselves. They’ve given me the things they never had, and that is something only first-gen students get to feel.”
More than anything, Barefield has felt encouraged by her parents, who have emphasized academics her entire life. In fact, it was her mother who was responsible for steering Barefield in the direction of Centre.
Following the advice of her daughter’s high school guidance counselor, she read Loren Pope’s Colleges That Change Lives. Becky herself didn’t put Centre on her list, but her mother pushed her to visit campus based on Centre’s feature in the book.
“She saw what it could offer me,” says Barefield. Her mother was particularly drawn to Centre’s small class size and student-teacher ratio, the emphasis on academic progress as a marker of success rather than solely grades and the Centre Commitment.
Barefield says her mother knew immediately when they stepped on campus that Centre was the right place for her daughter.
“Apparently, my face was glowing, and I couldn’t stop smiling,” Barefield says.
That smile has stayed put throughout her four years at Centre.
“In addition to confirming who I thought I was and shaping me into someone I’m proud of being, Centre has given me the opportunity to study abroad, which changed my life,” says Barefield, who spent a semester in Glasgow, Scotland. “Living independently in a large city, a melting pot of cultures, and being so close to so much history, I grew exponentially and made dear friends across the globe.”
A behavioral neuroscience major, Barefield has also been involved on campus as a Centre Ambassador, a resident assistant and a member of Tri Delta sorority. She was also a peer mentor for the Grissom Scholars Program, which annually provides 10 new first-generation students a prestigious “full-ride-plus” scholarship. The first class of Grissom Scholars arrived at Centre in the fall of 2015.
Barefield also completed summer internships at the Primate Rescue Center in Nicholasville, Ky., and Houston Zoo in her hometown in Texas. She is now a particularly happy alumna in Centre’s ranks as she prepares for the next step: following her lifelong dream of becoming a zookeeper.
She especially appreciates that both of her internships provided valuable experience to prepare her for the job she will start following graduation as a primate keeper at the Houston Zoo. “It’s my dream job,” she says.
by Mary Trollinger
June 2, 2016